Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/12/13/tfl_nfc/
Londoners can bonk their way to work without Oyster cards TODAY
Buses first to siphon cash from NFC bank cards, mobes
Ticket machines on London buses are set to accept pay-by-tap credit and debit cards from today, it has been announced. The capital's Underground system is expected to follow suit sometime later, wirelessly siphoning cash from commuters and bypassing the Oyster card system.
The system will use MasterCard's PayPass platform: but it should also support cards using Visa's PayWave system. Bus passengers will immediately be able to pay their fare with a bonk of the card, saving (according to MasterCard) a day in the life of every London commuter who won't have to keep topping up their Oyster card.
London's transport authority has been trying to get rid of the hugely successful Oyster card for years; it had planned to accept contact-less bank cards and mobile phones equipped with Near Field Communications (NFC) in time for the Olympics.
The problem with Oyster is that not only does it require everyone using it to pay up front - to the annoyance of tourists and occasional visitors - but Transport For London also has to hand over a proportion of every top-up to the companies running the scheme and would prefer to keep the dosh in-house.
At one point there was a plan to offset the costs by convincing retailers to accept Oyster cards in payment for newspapers, cigarettes and the like, but shopkeepers were very reluctant to get involved and the plan had to be scrapped. Now the idea is to go the other way in accepting bank cards at tube turnstiles and buses ticket machines.
Various trials have been run, generally demonstrating that the process is too slow: the tube network wanted customer data in the pay-by-tap card or phone to be read within 300 milliseconds but will negotiate up to 500 - half a second.
The problem is that credit card payments are usually checked online and it's hard to do that in the time allowed, so NFC Times reports that Mastercard has negotiated with TfL to have preliminary approval issued within the office and then confirmed with the bank later - which could allow a peak-time traveller to exceed their overdraft, but the advantages outweigh the risks.
Buses come first as the fixed cost is much easier to manage - London buses charge a flat-rate fare regardless of distance travelled - but tubes will follow soon and the sociological impact of bonking a credit card against a turnstile should not be underestimated: the vast majority of bank cards issued in the UK support pay-by-tap, but few customers know that. Evidence shows that seeing other people using such technologies is the key spur to use, so witnessing millions of Londoners bonking their way into work every morning could easily be a tipping point for NFC in Blighty. ®